CTRL+R to Re-flesh

Performance and Short Film 

Exhibited during ‘Visceral Realities’ on December 10th 2021 at the London College of Communication, University of Arts London.

This is a funeral. A speculative auto-ethnographic ritual, where a cyberwitch reflects on her entanglement with digital technology, mourns the implications of this enmeshment and lastly rejects the techno-consumptive view of society through self-destruction. CTRL+R to Re-flesh takes you through a story starting from birth and ending at death, as an individual undergoes a realisation that humans and nature have already been made cyborgian by the exploitative longing to transcend corporeality. The work a journey through birth and affection, evolution and growth, helplessness and despair. It explores the affective and emotional relationship between a human and digital technology and acts as a cry to see technology as flesh.

CTRL+R to Re-flesh is an auto-ethnographic work, a reflective monologue spoken by a cyberwitch and addressed to an unidentified entity. However, upon closer analysis the viewer may realise that the woman is speaking to the earth underneath her and to the technology surrounding her. She likens her own body, her ‘flesh’ with nature and technology, hoping to transgress the meaning of what flesh is - as to her, it doesn’t stop at the human body, flesh is the raw material that composes a living or functioning material. The realisation that human bodies, nature and technology share the same elements and natural cycles of decay, brings to question what flesh is.

The title CTRL+R to Re-flesh is a play of words on the popular keyboard command CTRL and R to re-fresh or re-load a page. In this cyberfeminist ritual, the cyberwitch uses CTRL+R as an initialising command to start a conversation and ritual of ‘re-fleshing’ or reviewing flesh. By re-fleshing nature, human and technology, the cyberwitch acknowledges the origins, evolution, entanglement and decay of these three elements in simultaneity with one another.

CRTL+R to Re-flesh is a deeply personal and intimate story, as I bring the public into an intimate part of my mind and self-reflect on the limitations of my physical body, the consumptive relationship the human species have with nature and cyborgist behaviour already present in our everyday interactions with information technology.

CTRL+R to Re-flesh borrows from the ritualistic methodology of witchcraft and utilises the lens and fictionings of non-conformist cyberwitches to imagine alternative ways of seeing digital technology, and of seeing flesh. It is a form of resistance against techno-capitalist values and one’s own desires to transcend corporeality at the cost of another. By rejecting the privileging of human existence over the existence of nonhuman objects, the work can be seen as a cyberfeminist exploration of object oriented ontology.

Using affective storytelling as a narrative tool, the story portrays an individual entering a scene consisting of abandoned electronics at a rural e- waste site. With sadness in their eyes, they come to the space to do what humans have been doing for years - to discard outdated digital devices with the hopes of infinite progress providing something superior. However, after initiating a monologue and reflecting upon the sight, a sad realisation washes through them and they enter the scene to perform a techno-spiritual ritual. However, this ritual does not summon any supernatural forces or is not concerned with healing or inflicting harm - it is a funeral, a confession of guilt and an act of mourning.

I have used the figure of the cyberwitch as a fictioning of myself; a copy of my body and feelings towards my digital technology however my mindset has been changed from the varied lived experiences that I have performed in this alternative reality. By creating this persona and embodying it through the act of performance and through affective storytelling, I was able to put myself in a position of a fictive character based on my own mind and body, however having different practices. This technique allowed me to develop the narrative using a perspective of the Other and speculative how this Other would interact with common objects. The experience of the self as Other can be uncanny, however it has proved to be a useful speculative tool in imagining how one’s behaviours and attitudes might change if certain conditions were altered or if new practices were accepted. I believe designers must consider what vessels provide room for exploring, questioning and critiquing the values shaped by technological progress.

Watch the documentation of the on-site performance on December 10th 2021 at the London College of Communication, University of Arts London. Video credits: Kaixiang Yang (@kaixiang_yang_)

Photo Credits: Mat Denney

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